Rianna Gonzales • 23 March 2022

Why Most Communities Fail


To give your community the greatest chance of success, it is imperative to understand the common reasons why most online communities fail.

From a lot of research and feeding on the experiences of others, which includes both highly successful communities, as well as many dismal failures, I would like to share with you four (4) key reasons why online communities fail:


1. No clear value proposition

You need to provide an answer to the question, "why should someone join your community?". This sounds a bit obvious, but so many people launch communities for the wrong reason. Perhaps they want a space to share resources or to keep the person connected after an event. Perhaps they feel it is the "in thing" or perhaps they think it will help build their reach and visibility. Or perhaps some members of their target audience told them they should have one.

Remember: If you slap a community platform as an "extra" for your organisation or thematic area, without properly thinking through why people will be compelled to join (and stick around), you are doomed before you've started.


2. Unclear expectations from members (and failing to meet them)

If members join with certain expectations and you fail to meet them, they will leave. This typically happens if you have not properly communicated what you expect within your community BEFORE people sign up. Be ultra-transparent about what is inside. Have clear conversations with prospective members. Make sure people are going into your community with their eyes open. Your job as a community leader or moderator should be meeting the members' needs and expectations, rather than trying to guess what they are. Ensure consistency between what they expect and what you can actually provide.


3. Members being overwhelmed

If members join your community and are inundated by endless options, they will get confused and leave. to combat this, try to find solutions that ensure members only see the content relevant to them. Work to offer clear onboarding and let them feel guided/supported throughout their time in your community.


4. Not allocating enough effort and resources to managing your community

Community management takes a lot of work. For those looking to bolt on a community and then leave it alone, you are destined to fail. It is an ongoing time investment, forever (I know a bit dramatic). Particularly the early days (before you hit critical mass) can feel like stoking a fire - if you leave it alone, it'll go out. Multiple communities have failed because persons simply could not find the time to invest into them in an ongoing propensity. With a community of practice, as with most things, what you put in, is what you get out.


And here is an extra one....


If you are running an online community, don't hide it away in some "mystery box" or behind some tacky landing page. Share what is actually happening inside. This can take various forms but some of my favorites are:

  • A live tour, show people what they can find inside
  • Sharing public content-based value that is in the community
  • sharing honest member reviews
  • "Building in public", meaning documenting the journey of growing your community on your public profiles

Nobody trusts what is hidden. Nobody likes to commit to something that is unclear. We don't make commitments to something based on a vague guess. We make commitments based on having ample information.


I challenge you all to think about these four reasons why communities fail and see how you can use them to improve the impact of your community today.